Curating the perfect cruise itinerary has always been challenging for operators. However, the task has become infinitely more difficult in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, cruise lines must find ports and destinations that not only have rigorous health and safety procedures in place to protect guests, crew and local communities, but that also offer onshore activities and excursions to delight guests of all ages and tastes. We ask Claudius Docekal, vice president of deployment for Crystal Cruises; Tyler Rand, director of port and destination development at Royal Caribbean Group; and Matthew Rutherford, vice president of revenue management and deployment at P&O Cruises Australia how they are overcoming these challenges to continue providing exciting itineraries that will encourage travellers to return to cruising.
What role do you believe itineraries play in helping guests to choose a cruise?
CD: Travellers know that regardless of which Crystal Cruises brand they sail with, they will experience a consistently excellent standard of luxury, service, cuisine and other onboard elements. Therefore, they make their decisions based on whether they want to visit new destinations, explore their favourite places again, or attend a special event that is happening in one of the destinations. The Mediterranean, for example, tends to be popular among returning guests because there are so many route options, enabling them to see new places. Plus, the region is rich in culture and offers multiple onshore experiences, so people still find it rewarding if they return to a port they visited on a previous cruise. Finding the perfect itinerary will be more important than ever as the world opens up again – people will likely take fewer trips initially, so their cruise will need to be exactly what they’re looking for.
TR: Royal Caribbean Group’s brands and other companies in the industry continue to deliver innovative new ships filled with unique features and amenities, but we recognise that the destinations those ships visit plays a substantial role in both consumer consideration and the overall cruise experience. In fact, our guests rank the itinerary as one of the top factors when determining which cruise to book. Consequently, destinations are at the forefront of every strategic decision that we make, and we are constantly searching for ways to improve our itineraries.
MR: Our guests love diverse and interesting itineraries and that has always been an important part of our planning. Historically we’ve offered cruises from several different homeports across Australia, which has allowed us to provide a range of itineraries that conveniently leave from a local port. We believe this is a strong factor in our guests’ decision to choose to cruise with P&O Cruises.
What are the essential attributes of an inspiring and popular itinerary?
CD: A destination with a well-known name and notable reputation always piques a traveller’s interest in a cruise itinerary. The length of time we spend in port is also important for repeat guests, so we include late-night and overnight calls on our cruises because they offer more opportunities to dig deeper into the highlights of a place. At the same time, however, our guests want to enjoy the onboard activities, such as the spa, casino and enrichment programmes, so we must include sea days.
TR: The most fun-filled itineraries always feature diversity and authenticity. Guests prefer to have original experiences and the chance to immerse themselves in different cultures, sample new cuisine or purchase items they can’t get at home.
MR: It is important to have a balance between the number of port and sea days. For example, our popular seven-night South Pacific itinerary from Brisbane, Australia combines three relaxed sea days with visits to two ports in New Caledonia and Port Vila in Vanuatu. This means our guests only need to take one week of annual leave, but they still return home feeling fully refreshed from their cruise holiday.
Have you changed your approach to building and delivering inspiring itineraries for 2021 and 2022? Which ones are you particularly excited about?
CD: Crystal had already opened bookings for itineraries across all regions on our ocean ships up until the end of 2023 before the pandemic had developed. We still plan to operate these voyages and I’m especially excited about the introduction of Crystal Endeavor next year because she will allow Crystal guests to explore further than ever before. For instance, the ship will sail a 29-night Northeast Passage voyage to the most remote polar regions and destinations from Anadyr, Russia to Tromsø, Norway. We’ve also revealed 2023 itineraries for Crystal Cruises and Crystal Yacht Cruises. Of course, we’re closely monitoring the situation in each individual port and will remain agile to ensure we keep the well-being and safety of our guests and crew as our top priority.
TR: We have a strong core group of loyal cruise guests who are raring to return to cruising. Our challenge is to develop refreshed itineraries or reposition ships in new markets so we can provide a different experience given that safety, accessibility and convenience will play an important role in making a vacation decision. Some of the highlights of our 2021 season will include the European debuts of both Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Apex and Royal Caribbean International’s Odyssey of the Seas, as well as the launch of a new short Barcelona programme on Adventure of the Seas, and Quantum of the Seas repositioning to Alaska to sail alongside Ovation of the Seas. Royal Caribbean will also offer an exciting package of cruises to Japan featuring Tokyo’s brand new cruise facility and, in 2022, introduce Wonder of the Seas, our newest Oasis-class ship and the largest cruise vessel in the world, to the market in China.
MR: As we adapt to the current market situation it may become necessary to make some changes to our itineraries in the short term to ensure the health and safety of all our guests and support the restart of cruising. In the longer term, we expect to return to our normal itineraries as this is what our guests want.
Which ports or destinations do you anticipate will have the most positive impact on encouraging passengers to cruise again?
CD: Initially, I believe it will be destinations that have experienced low case numbers and have implemented the most effective response plans. We’re working closely with our port partners to provide a safe and enjoyable cruising environment for our guests and crew, as well as the local communities we visit. In addition, we’ve developed new Crystal Clean+ 3.0 health and safety protocols, which will be continually revised and enhanced as we get closer to resuming our operations.
TR: Given the global nature of the pandemic, every region of the world has been impacted but our port and destination partners are all working hard to help us achieve a healthy return to sailing. Ensuring the safety of our guests, crew and the communities we visit around the world is top of mind for everyone and we’re optimistic and excited about the prospect of resuming operations. There will be a gradual build up to travel on more expansive itineraries as guests feel that additional destinations are safe for them to visit as we emerge from the pandemic.
MR: We believe domestic cruising within Australia will be very important in helping to make guests confident to consider cruising when we are able to resume operations. Queensland ports such as Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays, Cairns in far north Queensland and Moreton Island will feature prominently on our itineraries. As international borders open up, we expect New Zealand, Vanuatu and New Caledonia will be very popular with our guests.
This article was first published in the 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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